The knife crime death toll is plaguing Britain, with politicians seemingly uncertain how best to tackle the epidemic. With talking heads arguing about chicken boxes, stop and search and more stringent prison sentences, no one seems to know what to do. Is a PR approach enough, asks Tannice Hemming.
Let’s go back to May 2018, when Donald Trump, addressing the National Rifle Association, sought to defend America’s mass gun killings by comparing the two nations and their weapons of choice.
“They don’t have guns”, he said. “They have knives and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital,” he said. “They say it’s as bad as a military war zone hospital. Knives, knives, knives, knives.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d struggle to choose which death I’d prefer, whether due to blade or bullet, but the evidence suggests that bullets are at least twice as deadly. So what was his argument? It turns out that Britain isn’t alone with its knife crime problem – America has higher knife homicides than the UK, too. The USA has 4.96 knife-related murders per million people, compared with the 3.26 sharp instrument deaths per million in Britain (source: FBI/Office for National Statistics.).
The answer, according to Trump, is more guns. Because we don’t already have enough violence and bloodshed in our streets. Adding guns to the issue can only mean more bloodshed, especially since you don’t have to be quite so close to your victim to murder them with a gun.
So what are the government doing to stop knife crime becoming the UK’s answer to the USA’s gun control problem?
Misguided ‘chicken box’ initiative
You may have heard references to fried chicken boxes and knife crime slogans, so what’s the big idea behind this new initiative? Simply put, it’s cigarette-box style warnings and knife crime stories printed on fried chicken takeaway boxes. Adorned with #knifefree and a huge helping of racism, the Home Office takeaway packaging campaign has taken an absolute drubbing of late.
MP David Lammy spoke directly to the inherent stereotyping that placing the slogans on fried chicken boxes evokes by asking if ‘#knifefree watermelons [were] next’, whilst Home Secretary, Priti Patel, defended the scheme, saying its critics were ‘playing politics’ with the issue.
As part of an investigation into the emerging wave of knife crime, the Youth Select Committee first mooted the idea of advertising on chicken boxes because of ‘chicken shop grooming’. Playing on youth poverty, criminal gangs have begun recruiting new child members into drug dealing with the promise of free fried chicken.
With 70% of chicken shop customers falling into the age range of 16-24, the Home Office feels that spending £57k on the boxes will make at least some kind of impact. In a way, it already has, given that everyone you know has something to say about the chicken boxes and how effective they will be.
If greasy chicken box slogans won’t help, what will?
Convinced that the boxes are misguided at best and insulting at worst, content agency Word on the Curb have been out on the streets to find out more about what the public thinks might help. Emblazoned on chicken boxes, the suggestions range from encouraging entrepreneurs with interest-free loans, new roles for mentors in schools and increased investment in youth services.
With the government announcing new, expanded stop-and-search powers and an extra 10 thousand prison places, it seems that cracking down on the issue is the only way the government knows how to deal with it.
Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary is also deeply unimpressed with the chicken box initiative. Writing for the Metro, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said she knew how to solve the epidemic. Writing movingly about the scourge of mothers waking up to the news of the murder of their sons, she said the chicken box scheme was both cruel and pointless.
Citing the example of Glasgow, crowned the ‘knife crime capital of Europe’ by the World Health Organisation in 2005, whose organisations worked diligently to drastically reduce knife-related injuries and deaths, she revealed the solution is more complicated than a PR campaign.
Shockingly, PR stunts aren’t the answer
The answer, argues Abbott, is mentoring, education and close collaboration between agencies. Of course that isn’t quite as headline-grabbing, nor easy as printing up 321,000 chicken takeaway boxes, yet it’s what brought those Glasgow figures right down.
Others suggest that involving the mothers of the boys committing these crimes would be a far more efficient way to tackle the issue. They blame the government for slashing the funding available for community youth projects and say ministers simply won’t admit the role of austerity in the crime wave.
Patsy McKie, celebrated founding member of the Mothers Against Violence group, says that tackling the issue has to start young. The group visits community groups, pupil referral units and collates feedback from the groups where the problem originates.
Representation matters – nothing about us without us, please
Alex Beresford, Good Morning Britain weather presenter, couldn’t agree more. In March, he interrupted an interview with John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation, because he could no longer sit back and listen quietly. Speaking as a mixed race member of the communities under discussion, he said that increasing stop-and-search powers and increasing prison places is simply ineffective.
In an impassioned video, released shortly after he interjected, he argued it’s unacceptable that the communities under discussion are rarely invited to participate in the debates. He noted there are plenty of excellent role models within the black communities and excluding them is just compounding the issue. The members of the communities involved in knife crime, he said, are simply not deterred from violence by prison. They simply go in and find new partners in violence who teach them everything they need to know to escape detection and commit worse crimes than they originally went down for.
Whilst the government sounds committed to tackling the knife crime issue, it seems they’re unwilling to actually invest much money on proper research into the subject. Misguided, racist campaigns might have got the nation talking, but is that enough?
We’d be grateful to hear your comments and insights into the #knifefree campaign, so please do tweet us at @sszeemedia to contribute to the conversation.